Bike Policy Debate Bereft of Bicycle Commuters

Provided by Gary Beaton

On Wednesday, January 18th, the City Standing Policy Committee on Land Use, Planning and Transportation met to debate new cycling and pedestrian policies designed to make Calgary a better place to bike to work. Only two long distance commuters, Dave Fryett and myself, were present out of Calgary’s estimated five thousand commuting cyclists. We were joined by Peter Tombrowski who is a pedestrian commuter and author of the book ‘Urban Camping – a Testament to Living Without a Vehicle’. The only other year-round bicycle commuter in the room was City Alderman Brian Pincott who is not a member of the committee but was present because of his interest in sustainable transportation in Calgary.

Tombrowski is an advocate of a complete streets approach to urban planning with safe space for pedestrians and cyclists on city streets. He has done some promotion work with Calgary-based Chariot Carriers a manufacturer of bicycle trailers and robust jogging strollers. He did not address the committee.

Glaringly absent from the committee room were the usual suspects of recreational cyclists that present themselves as experts on year-round commuter cycling. However, the Transportation report included an attachment outlining the “thorough” stakeholder engagement process employed to develop the report and an attachment consisting of a letter of support for city bicycle commuting policies was a hearty endorsement of the City by the Calgary Pathway Advisory Committee chairperson. It will not surprise commuting cyclists to learn that the members of the CPAC are chosen by the City of Calgary. The responsibility of CPAC is to advise the Parks Department on issues pertaining to the Calgary multi-use pathway system in our parks.

There were other notable and obvious flaws in the stakeholder engagement process. Sustainable Alberta, which just organized the weeklong ‘Commuter Challenge’ to coincide with Environment Week, had not been asked for any input into the City’s policy. Ironically the City was a participant and supporter of the ‘Commuter Challenge’. In fact at the launch, ConocoPhillips President, Henry Sykes implored cyclists not to risk their safety for the sake of participating in the challenge and stressed that the spirit of friendly competitiveness should not be marred by a serious injury. Calgary has one of the higher participation rates of major Canadian cities in this event yet has the distinction of having the worst record for building cycling infrastructure.

Furthermore, the City did not consult with any bicycle couriers, bicycle industry representatives, local bicycle equipment manufacturers (Chariot), Sustainable Calgary, environmental groups that might be promoting the bicycle as an effective pollution-free mode of transportation. No oil industry economists were summoned to give predictions on what would happen to the numbers of bicycling commuters in Calgary if the price of gasoline goes up even more.

Fryett gave a presentation, supported with crisp, colour pictures, of the neglect of the commuter routes in the far SE. Pathways identified as bicycle routes still remain closed three years after the floods. The only access route from and to his subdivision is an unmaintained gravel road that transitions to single track. The City wants the developer to put in the asphalt path at no cost to the city so SE bike commuters are left to suffer the rough ride. Fryett produced a bike wheel and told Aldermen that he and his colleagues put up with broken spokes and the inconvenience of numerous repairs because of the standoff between the City and the developer.

In my presentation to the Committee, I pointed out that commuter cyclists were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure in Calgary. I told Aldermen that I was personally offended by the City’s ‘Share the Road’ media campaign which featured a carton sketch of a car drawn around a picture of a cyclist. The road cannot be safely shared with a bicycle and an automobile weighing 1500 kilograms a differential in mass of one hundred fold. As a cyclist, I am dead if I do not share the road with cars – which in effect means that I have to anticipate dangerous driving behaviour. On the other hand, to the automobile driver ‘Share the Road’ means that a cyclist can use the road when the driver no longer is in need of the roadway. Without dedicated infrastructure that minimizes the risk of injury to the cyclist, males with higher risk tolerance predominate bicycle commuting on the streets of Calgary.

In future the City should be consulting commuting cyclists about transportation alternatives rather than a group of recreational cyclists appointed to a committee by the City. I pointed out that commuting cyclists did not make this an easy process. Calgary again has the dubious distinction of being the only city in which commuter cyclists are not represented by an organization to articulate and promote our interests.

The Committee was told that Calgary needed to drop its infatuation with importing best cycling practices into Canada from Europe and look to Melbourne, Australia. I related that Melbourne is home to the world’s largest cycling advocacy organization, Bicycle Victoria, with: in excess of forty thousand members, revenues of seven to ten millions of dollars (seventy percent generated from cyclists) and almost fifty FTE employees. BV had just set a goal of achieving a policy target of 30% commuter traffic into the downtown core. Melbourne was described as suburban city not unlike Calgary in terms of spatial footprint although with a larger population.

Calgary cyclists have to get their act together and start an organization that will represent the interests of commuting cyclists and speak clearly with one voice to policy-makers. The Committee was advised that this process has been initiated.

The presentations of the commuting cyclists brought about the most animated discussion of the morning from the aldermen and even sparked a spontaneous discussion among the audience of lobbyists and citizens who were patiently waiting for their items of business on the committee’s long agenda.

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One Response to “Bike Policy Debate Bereft of Bicycle Commuters”

  1. Thanks Gary

    I’m sure most cyclists in the city, whether they are commuters, recreational cyclists, or people who work from their bike, appreciate you taking the time to talk with the city regarding bicycle issues. Your effort is commendable. I am affraid that getting the bicycling community to “speak clearly with one voice” is an uphill battle. I have a very nice commute from Mission to Mcall Lake, on maintained pathways and some downtown riding. While I support the expansion of cycling dedicated routes, being a taxpayer also, it can be difficult to justify when on a snowy morning in February you’re likely to only see one or two other cyclists. I have found that cars behave better around cyclists on “share the road” dedicated lanes such as 2nd street SW. As I travel to new parts fo the city I’m constantly impressed with the amount of dedicated cycling pathways. I’m not sure why you think Calgary has “the worst record for cycling infrastructure”. Its alot better than many other Canadian city’s I’ve lived in. Just my two cents.

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